The plot of Hidden Fear is a bit involved, which also places it square within the conventions of film noir.
I’m sure there’s a story behind how an American film noir came to be made in Denmark—the title sequence for Hidden Fear inform us that it was “Produced at Palladium Studios, Copenhagen, Denmark,” while the end credits thank the people of Copenhagen for their assistance—but except from some local color and Nordic names in the credits, it’s pretty much like a film noir produced in California or anywhere else. Perhaps that’s not surprising, considering that the Hungarian-American director André de Toth directed and co-wrote the screenplay with John Hawkins, and most of the principal cast members are also Americans, including John Payne, Alexander Knox, Conrad Nagel, Natalie Norwick, and Anne Neyland.
The plot of Hidden Fear is a bit involved, which also places it square within the conventions of noir. American detective Mike Brent (Payne) has come to Copenhagen to try to help his sister, Susan (Norwick), a stage performer who’s been accused of murder. The corpse is her performing partner, who also used to be her lover—until she discovered that his affections were not exclusively bestowed on her. In the process of his investigation, Mike becomes involved with another performer, Virginia Kelly (Anne Neyland), who is also seeing the sinister Arthur Miller (Conrad Nagel). At this point, you may wonder what all those Americans were doing in Copenhagen, and also why Mike is allowed to use “that’s how we do it in America” to excuse, say, beating up on his own sister.
Mike breaks into the murder scene (without regard for the ongoing Danish police investigation) and discovers a stash of American $10 bills, all with the same serial number. Bingo! They’re counterfeit, and given that we’re in a film noir world, it comes as no surprise that they are the property of a group of ex-Nazis who have formed a counterfeiting ring. Neither is it a surprise that the two plots—dead guy and counterfeit money—turn out to belong to one and the same story.
Payne plays Mike as almost a parody of an American tough guy, who doesn’t betray much in the way of brotherly affection, or even concern toward his accused sister. She seems cut from the same cloth, showing interest only in what he can do for her. Their attitudes toward each other fit right in with the grim atmosphere of this film, which is admirably portrayed through Wilfred M. Cline’s cinematography. It’s classic low-budget noir—basic sets with shadows everywhere; lots of dark streets and long hallways and lonely rooms—with some exterior shots providing a bonus look at 1950s Copenhagen.
Hidden Fear ends with quite a chase scene, featuring automobiles, motorcycles, helicopters, and boats (seriously, it feels a bit like an educational film meant to introduce children to different modes of transportation), which must maneuver around various obstacles, including cyclists, streetcars, and geese. The storytelling is at its most loose in this segment, and some of it looks suspiciously like stock footage, but it does end the story with a bang.
Hidden Fear is distributed on Blu-Ray by Kino Lorber. The picture is restored and looks great (much better than many other restored films of the period) and the sound is sharp and clear. The only extras are trailers for five other films. | Sarah Boslaugh